The ability to come back after a rough patch is something of a hallmark, even a speciality, of Rafael Nadal’s career. He seems to have an innate talent for overcoming any obstacles in his path. The Spaniard won his 89th tour-level title in Melbourne on Sunday, leaving behind the woes of an injury to his left foot and a positive COVID-19 test that hampered his preseason and made his return to competition all the more difficult.
“Given what we went through, this is a very special title,” Nadal said, with a trophy in his hands. “I’m not really one to say this, but I think I’m pretty satisfied on a personal level. I’ve been through a lot of tough times and I never lost hope or my desire to work with the right attitude. I feel happy about it and reaping the rewards with a title always makes it worth it.”
The Spaniard, who has now won an ATP Tour title for the 19th consecutive season, was particularly effusive in the evaluation of his victory in Australia. It’s not the biggest title of his career, the win itself will not change his place in the history of the sport, but it is a sign he is on the right path; one where he has the desire to persevere and face up to any challenge that presents itself.
“Winning is always special, whatever the title is. At the end of the day, it’s another title for my CV. But I’m happy about it, particularly because I know what we went through,” acknowledged Nadal, thinking back to the mission he embarked on in September to treat the dysplasia in his left foot and the 10 days he had to isolate at home, unable to practise in the midst of the preseason due to coronavirus.
“Knowing how much work we did. My family and team have been there for me unconditionally during all these months, which have been difficult,” Nadal added. “There were many doubts, there still are. Let’s be honest. It’s just a start, but it’s a positive start. I’m very satisfied.
“The first four days were terrible, I couldn’t move. I had awful joint pain,” he remembers in detail. “I was either on the sofa or in bed, unable to move. I had a high fever. That was the first four days. Then I was very tired for three days. Around the eighth day, as I have a bike at home, I started to do half an hour very lightly in order to start working. Then I had a negative [test] and I was able to train the odd day at home. I decided to leave for Australia because I understood that it was best for me mentally and in terms of my tennis.”
The final against Maxime Cressy, an exponent of serve-volley tennis, provided Nadal with an opportunity to fine tune his game in a difficult tactical context and also a final competitive match before turning his mind to the Australian Open.
“Today was a very positive match against an opponent who was very awkward and very difficult,” offered the Spaniard. “I did a lot of things well; I served well, I returned well. From the baseline I think I played points more within myself, with more restraint when hitting the ball. My movements were much more fluid. In general, I did a lot of things better than yesterday. I’m sure this will help me to go forward positively and give me energy for this week of training, which will be important.
“I know that I’m coming from a very tough situation. I understand that expectations are always high, because of what I’ve done in my career, but my approach is a little different. I will try to make every day, every training session, count. At the moment, I don’t feel like a genuine contender for what might come in a week. Later, you never know. Things change quickly in sport. What I have to do is be prepared for what might happen. If things improve, I’ll be here. You know I will give everything to try and have a chance. That’s why I’m here. Right now, my only goal is to stay on my path, work hard during the week and see if I am ready when I get there.”
Nadal continues to show what he has shown throughout his career; when difficulties present themselves, and against all odds, his willpower will always find a way.